Manufacturers in the North East must take advantage of funding opportunities to help close the gap on the skills shortage, a leading employer has declared.
Mike Matthews, managing director of Eaglescliffe-based Nifco UK Ltd and honorary vice president of the NECC, believes the days of having to change youngsters’ perception of careers in engineering and manufacturing are over.
The problem now, however, is encouraging businesses to take on the keen apprentices and trainees, despite measures in place to provide financial support to firms keen to take on young starters.
Earlier this week Mr Matthews announced that his car parts business had been approved for a £300,000 grant from the Department for Business Innovation & Skills (BIS) through its Employer Ownership Fund (EOF), to invest in its growing workforce.
Yet he said scores of firms are still unaware of the EOF, and other available support packages.
He said: “The future is looking great at the moment and we’ve got a positive balance of trade in the North East, but our biggest challenge regionally and nationally remains the skills gap.
“When I really started to get involved in it in 2009 we were looking at 10% to 15% of all employers having apprentices and that has gone up to 20%.
“But that still leaves a huge number of companies who don’t have apprentices. I don’t think we have a problem any more with young people not wanting to be engineers, we’ve changed the perceptions and they’re knocking on our door all the time wanting to join.
“The number one problem is to get employers to take them on.”
The funding from BIS’s Employer Ownership Fund will be awarded on the basis of Nifco investing some of its own cash into the development of its people, and meeting a number of measures and milestones along the way.
He added: “There’s definitely money still in the Employer Ownership Fund and it’s not getting used. It’s basically allowing manufacturers, not training providers, to decide where and how they will spend their money.
“We all need to start to look outside and look to the wider community because there is masses of support out there.”
Mr Matthews’ rallying call came at the Xcel Centre in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, where more than 1,500 delegates packed into the Durham Oktoberfest, the biggest event in the North East for engineering and manufacturing.
Economic regeneration proved to be a key theme for the day, the region’s chance to showcase the strength and depth of the region’s input to UK growth.
Exhibitors included Hiatco, Bignall Group, Dyer Engineering, Eastern Seals, Altec Engineering, Inspection and Engineering Services, Johnson Partners and Emirates.
Mr Matthews was the keynote speaker alongside Coun Neil Foster, portfolio holder for economic regeneration at Durham County Council, Dr Simon Goon, managing director of Business Durham and Paul Watts, joint managing director of The AMA Group, the firm heralded for the regeneration of the clothing industry in County Durham.
The Durham Oktoberfest took place as latest CBI quarterly figures showed recovery in UK manufacturing continued in the three months to October, but the pace of growth slowed as new export orders declined.
The Quarterly Industrial Trends Survey of 448 firms recorded above average growth in orders and output volumes – but the rate of growth for both in the last three months was the slowest for a year.
Durham Oktoberfest was delivered by the North, East and South Durham Engineering Forums in partnership with Business Durham, NEPIC, the Advanced Manufacturing Forum, NOF Energy, Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS) and the BE Group.